Brad Garrett returns to series TV with FX’s Fargo season two playing a gangster who’s handling business dealings for the Kansas City mafia. Although Garrett’s known mostly for his comedic roles, including his three-time Emmy Award winning turn as Robert Barone on Everybody Loves Raymond, with Fargo he plays a darker character with just a touch of humor thrown in.
In support of the show’s critically acclaimed second season, Garrett participated in a conference call to discuss Fargo, playing Joe, and his co-stars.
Brad Garrett Fargo Interview:
What drew you to Fargo and had you watched the previous season?
Brad Garrett: “I was a real fan of season one as most people were. I’ve done a little bit of drama in the past. I wanted, obviously, to branch out. It’s our job as actors to reinvent ourselves when we get the opportunity. My reps vigorously went after the chance to audition for the role. Noah Hawley and Warren Littlefield were nice enough to bring me in to read and here we are.”
We haven’t really learned very much about Joe yet. Are we going to learn more about his backstory? Is there more going on than just his work for the Kansas City mafia?
Brad Garrett: “Yes, we are going to find out a lot more about Joe Bulo. I can’t get into much of what you’re going to learn about him. He definitely becomes an integral part of the scenario to move forward.”
Is there anything you’ve found you were surprised to learn about yourself as an actor from playing Joe?
Brad Garrett: “I’m not a very good runner. It’s a very physical show, obviously. A lot of wonderful character actors actually doing their own stunts. As far as I’m concerned you can’t get a Jew to jump off a porch. When I had to do things that were more physical, it was really kind of interesting how I sometimes had to go back to my trailer and weep.
As far as from an actor standpoint it was really a wonderful opportunity. It’s so rare to be able to work on something that has brilliant writing and amazing directing. I was so grateful when I landed the part. When you have scripts like this it makes your job a lot more easier, that’s for sure.”
There’s a dark undertone to the character but there’s some ironic comedy along with it. Did that really excite you about the role?
Brad Garrett: “Yeah, that’s what was so attractive in the beginning to play this character. He’s someone that’s humorous in spite of himself. It’s great to play someone that doesn’t mean to be funny, that’s just odd and quirky. Again, that’s what’s great about writing. The humor comes from character, never from jokes. There’s a real nuance to playing that. I just find it great.
I know it’s cliché to say it, but there is such a fine line between comedy and drama. I think when you come up in comedy, drama is so much more fun to play because you can let it breathe. You can take those beats, you can have the silence without waiting for that laugh. It’s a lot more intimate than comedy is. I just had a blast.”
Do you prefer being on a cable platform like FX with some of the freedom it has?
Brad Garrett: “It’s all about the freedom. Of course, this is a smaller role compared to some of the other roles in Fargo this year. From just being able to see the creative process and the freedom that the writers and the directors are given, there is a huge amount of trust that is handed over to the creators in cable that just doesn’t happen in network. I’m not sure why that is. I think that the execs in network are probably a lot more scared. Fear is a implement when it comes to dealing with a creative process.
I think when you hire these people, you’ve got to trust them and you’ve got to trust them to deliver the right product. I think that is what has made cable just soar because they let everyone do what they’re supposed to do. I think when you get on that set you feel that vibe. It’s contagious. Everyone is excited because they’re being allowed to do what they’re supposed to do, whether it’s on the acting level or the writing or directing. That seems to be what’s making it work so much better off broadcast.”
There are moments within the episodes that are left for audiences to fill in and draw their own conclusions. When you’re reading a script do you question Noah Hawley and the other writers about it? Do they say, “Yeah, there may or may not be aliens involved. We don’t know?”
Brad Garrett: “You know, I had very, very few questions with it. Again, they’re very, very collaborative. Noah, that’s just the way he works. If you have any questions on anything, he’s happy to answer them.
You pretty much read the scripts you’re involved in. You’re not really allowed to read the other scripts that you’re not in. There is a mystery part of it that you have to let go. When you read the alien thing, for example, in the pilot, it’s open to interpretation for the actors as well as it is for the viewers. Was it an alien? Is it something he saw? He was losing blood at the time, was he hallucinating? That’s what makes Fargo so amazing because there’s so much that’s open to interpretation. It all comes down to how the actors play it as well.
I’m sure if Noah wants to see it a different way, he has no problem saying that. He has a great way of communicating with actors. Like I say, when you have amazing writing on the page it makes our job so much easier.”
Can you talk a little bit about your character’s relation with Bokeem Woodbine’s character Mike Milligan? What does it mean that you’re joining him in town?
Brad Garrett: “Bokeem is so amazingly gifted as an actor. Right away we really kind of zoned in on what our relationship is. To Joe Bulo, [Mike] probably has a lot more ability and talent than maybe Joe does. Joe is more old-school. This is the first time that we’ve really been to the field together. Bokeem’s character, this is kind of what he does. I think they kind of send Joe along to kind of keep an eye on everything. I think early on Joe figures out that this is a new brand. Bokeem’s character is maybe the new enforcer from their company. This is a guy who is on the up and up and definitely a guy who is going to surpass Bulo.
We wanted to play a little of that where I definitely have the upper hand out there in the field but probably down the line this is a guy who is probably going to be making the calls and I’ll be sent back to Kansas City. What was fun about that was the teaming of the two characters. That’s an extra thing to play which gives me other obstacles and stakes. I really need to make the deal right with the Gerhardts. I need to really show that I could come back with the deal done. I have a definite different style than Bokeem, that’s going to reveal itself as it goes on.”
You’re always such a big presence in anything you play because of your size and your voice being so deep and very striking. It seems like the way your scenes so far have been shot that’s been less of a factor. It’s more been focused on your character. It’s focused on your expressions. Was that something intentional in the way they shot your scenes? Does that allow you to think more on who your character is rather than your presence in the room?
Brad Garrett: “You know, that’s an interesting question. I never really thought about that. The look is just…it really looks like no other show that I’ve seen in quite some time. I don’t even know how to answer that. Even the cinematographers and the time of day they shoot and the lighting that they want, the terrain that they use, I think it’s the location and thematically it’s just bigger than any one character, if that makes any sense. I think it’s just about everyone just delving into what Fargo is all about. I have to give to a lot of that, again, to the directing.
I’m surrounded by large people, believe it or not. My scenes, there’s a couple guys that are 6’5″ and I don’t stick out as much maybe physically. Bokeem is tall. I always wanted to feel petite so any time that happens it’s an exciting day for me.”
This is a huge ensemble cast of really talented actors. Who are a couple of your favorite character actors this season?
Brad Garrett: “Well, I have to say, Jean Smart blew me away. I think Bokeem’s incredible. Jeffrey Donovan is great. Everyone… It’s like Ted Danson I love in everything. Just talking among the actors it’s like everyone felt like we better bring our A game here, whatever that is because you’re surrounded by such gifted people in front of the camera and behind that it’s contagious. Everyone is blowing me away. Jesse Plemons who is so incredible. Kirsten Dunst. There’s a lot of people I didn’t have scenes with.
The only episode we’ve been shown, as far as the cast, was the pilot. It’s new for us every week. We don’t really know what’s going to happen. Every character is told not to tell your other character, partner, what’s going to happen. It’s kind of exciting. It’s revealing itself the same way it is for the audience.”
We’re seeing several shows from the past returning to TV including Full House. They’re making a come-back for a brief time as a limited series. Is there any chance we could see a return of Everybody Loves Raymond?
Brad Garrett: “You know, Ray [Romano] has always said that would never happen mainly because we really stopped mid-year nine and that was because we were out of scripts. Ray has a real integrity when it comes to not really jumping the shark and not wanting to repeat stories. When Peter Boyle passed we all knew there would never be a possibility of a reunion because he was such a huge part of that show. Ray would never do it without Peter.”